SCOOP DU JOUR is a weekly column by food enthusiast Hannah Howard about eating, cooking, and exploring her way through New York. From a visit with the City’s greatest grocer to discovering the “umami” of love, Fridays are packed with the unique flavor only Hannah can coax out of a culinary experience.
“The fat is the meat and the meat is the vegetable.” — Josh Ozersky
In 2010, Josh Ozersky saved my year. I was living in Los Angeles, embarking on a hellish management program for a corporate steakhouse. He was in town from New York, eating excessively, as was his way.
We went to Dan Tana’s for veal scallopini and spaghetti and meatballs. Sitting below Chianti bottles dangling from the ceiling, he told it to me straight:
“Hanneleh, get out of there before it obliterates your soul.”
Josh called me Hanneleh, like he was some old Yiddish man, which he sort of was.
“Go write. Live in Seattle, or Austin, or something. Be young and poor. Get a weird job. Write some more. Corporate steakland is not for you.”
He was right. In a few months, I gathered the courage to quit. I moved Philadelphia, managed a quirky restaurant, and, of course, I wrote.
Josh and I met when he was Mr. Cutlets, working for Grub Street — the New York Magazine food blog he founded. I was an intern at Serious Eats. It was 2008; food blogs were new and shiny. A bunch of us unabashed food nerds got together at the Red Hook Ball Fields to feast on papusas and arepas. It was high summer, and unkindly hot. We ordered one of everything, spread out on the green grass, and ate our faces off.
We were full of slow-cooked goat meat when the skies unleashed a wild downpour. Josh knew where to go: dark, iconic Sunny’s, where we drank cold beer, laughed, and digested.
“Can we go out for a drink?” Josh asked me. “And are you 21?”
Josh took me to the late, great Alto for my 21st birthday, where we ate hunks of lardo and ribbons of veal ragu-laced pasta with Michael White. We made it to PDT by midnight. We’ve been friends ever since.
Josh was all the things he said he was in his prolific, powerful writing: grandiose, tormented, an old-school glutton (he wore his gout diagnosis as a perverse badge of honor), a lover of fat (he called bacon a “straight-up fetish object”), meat, drugs, booze, excess, celebrities, and big, obscure words. He was also what any reader may fathom: cocky, needy, brilliant.
But the Josh I knew was also giant-hearted and vulnerable. He could be a true mensch and an epic jerk. He wanted to be a famous intellectual, but settled on famous food-tellectual. He had a desperate need to be successful, always more successful than he was; accepted. More than accepted — loved.
He wanted to be a part of the party, and that he was. We celebrated Halloween in Restaurant Daniel’s kitchen, with every famous chef you could think of and a whole hog. He waited in line at Di Fara just like everyone else, but he knew and loved the owner and took credit for the Brooklyn pizzeria’s cult fame. We feasted on the third, secret-ish floor of The Spotted Pig.
He also cooked me steak for dinner and steak for breakfast. Simple lemony pasta that Michael White had taught him to make. He fried up the leftover Di Fara square slices in Fairway Gata Hurdes olive oil.
He lived in Ditmas Park — Ozerkistan, he termed it — only because poverty (normal, food writer poverty) had exiled him there. He loathed Ditmas Park. When he moved to the East Village, he had arrived in the world.
He seemed better than ever, these last few years. “Hanneleh, I’m making it,” he told me the last time we hung out in New York. He had just moved to Portland, and extolled the fresh air and the nice, meat-loving people. He was now the official restaurant editor at Esquire, and I was proud of him. It was exactly what he wanted.
He wanted me to try the truffle pasta with grated yak cheese at Aldo Sohm Wine Bar. After, we went for burgers and strawberry milkshakes at Steak ‘n Shake in Midtown, because Josh found it unacceptable that I had never been.
I got to see Josh in his element at the South Beach Food & Wine in February, where he happily presided over Meatopia, his love. It had started out as a little meat festival with his chef friends — now, Guy Fieri was Josh’s co-host and thousands descended upon the giant, flashy extravaganza. Josh had arrived.
The night before, he stayed up past 4 a.m. with the cooks, barbecuing on the beach, waves crashing, the air perfumed with ribs and brisket and salt water.
“It was so cool,” he texted the next day. “Just me and the cooks. Want to get some bacon?”
I miss you, Josh. I’m not alone. When you left, the world offered grief, heartfelt adoration, and giant respect.
You made it.
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